By Jason Harris
God has blessed the church today with a wonderful heritage of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs which have been passed down through the centuries. In recent centuries the church has enjoyed the blessing of modern technology in the form of hymnals. More recently, many churches are using modern technology to project music onto a screen or wall. The question is, which should your church use? Printed music or projection? While the church must always be eager to use the resources the Lord has entrusted to us for His glory, change should always follow thoughtful consideration.
My goal in this comparison is not to promote either medium, but to provide a helpful resource for pastors and worship leaders who are considering which tool, or combination of tools, will be most effective in their ministry.
Direction – You can set and communicate the musical and philosophical tone for a music ministry simply by your choice of which hymnal to use. When I walk into a new church building, one of the first things I do in order to get a feel for where the church is theologically and philosophically is to see which hymnal they use.
Discernment – When you choose a good hymnal, you employ the experience and discernment of a theologically mature musician in your choice of music (i.e. the hymnal editor).
Data – Hymnals provide tune names as well as author and composer details which often have devotional, as well as hymnological, significance.
Flexibility – Hymnals allow the worship leader to easily change many aspects of a service midstream if for some reason he believes it will be beneficial to the mood or circumstances.
Canon – A hymnal provides a canon—or rule—which prevents tunes from evolving drastically over time. It is musically lazy to allow our congregations to develop their own significantly altered versions of well known hymns. Visiting believers also find it difficult and frustrating to join in worship with such a congregation.
Accessibility – With hymnals, new songs can be learned easily because sight readers can read the printed music and lead the rest of the congregation.
Development – Hymnals allow congregations to become familiar with music notation and allows many to learn how to read music.
Range – Well-edited hymnals stay within a comfortable voice range so that the song is neither too high for the men nor too low for the ladies. Singing hymns in the wrong key is a common culprit in hindering good congregational singing.
Harmony – Hymnals encourage singing in parts. They also discourage improvised part singing which easily clashes with the chord-structure of the accompaniment.
Flow – Hymnals tend to hinder smooth service flow as the leader must stop between each song and announce the number… flip, flip, flip.
Distraction – Hymnals themselves tend to be a real distraction.
Permanence – Due to the cost of hymnals, they tend to stick around for many years. Often a new pastor or worship leader may be stuck for years with a hymnal that does not necessarily reflect the direction he desires to take the music ministry.
Expansion – Projection allows the worship leader to select and develop a repertoire that is exactly suited to the requirements and emphases of the ministry. New songs can be added and songs that fit a particular theme or emphasis can be inserted seamlessly.
Integration – Projection allows a ministry to integrate all the elements of their service including music, Scripture reading, announcements, texts for special music items, and sermon outlines. This provides a valuable continuity to the worship service.
Modification – Projection allows a ministry to make small modifications to hymn texts where the theology may not be in line with the direction of the ministry. It also allows the worship leader to exclude a stanza that is not in line with the ministry philosophy without drawing attention to the exclusion. Stanzas can also be added where a hymnal may not include them. For instance, Rutherford’s hymn text The Sands of Time Are Sinking has nineteen stanzas, but most hymnals only select four of them for inclusion.
Connection – Projection can inject freshness into a service and help keep the congregation focused and engaged in worship.
Localisation – Projection allows spellings to be localised when using texts written or edited in other regions of the world. It also allows ministries to insert their own national anthem where it may not be present in their hymnal.
Focus – If done well, projection can de-emphasise the worship leader and allow him to fade into the background.
Projection – Here I mean projection in the sense of projecting the voice instead of singing down into a hymn book. Most would agree that it is an advantage to have the congregation looking up and singing out.
Quality – Unfortunately, projection layout quality often ranges from cheesy to downright bad. The situation is so bad that I’m going to devote much of “part two” to that issue alone. Ultimately, it would be better to stick with a well edited hymnal than to switch to poorly presented projection. The distraction of spelling and grammar errors is incalculable in the context of worship.
Dependability – Unfortunately, the nature of projection leaves a huge margin for error. The problem can be anything from software to hardware, human error to technical glitch, projector problems, electricity problems, blown fuses and light globes to worn out batteries. The list is endless. And if the projection is down, the options are limited.
Singability – The scenario is common. An accompanist with limited ability switches the song to a key that is easier to play—but harder to sing. This is more likely to go unnoticed in a projection setting and can be devastating to a song service.
Work – Projection is labour and time intensive even for a mediocre outcome—particularly at first.
Risk – Projection makes it easy for a ministry to violate copyright laws if not carefully monitored.
Susceptibility – Projection allows new, questionable songs to be easily introduced to the congregation. Often ministry leaders are not even aware of the origin or context of the song. Projection also presents the temptation to use new or original songs that are poorly composed and detrimental to the task of developing good taste in the congregation.
Confidence – It is my experience that the worshipper’s confidence is sometimes lowered when he cannot reference the written music to be sure that he is singing the right notes at the right time. I’ve noticed this tends to evidence itself by the congregation dropping off early on long notes that are held out. Perhaps without being able to see how long the note should be held, individuals pull back for fear of being embarrassed.
Visibility – Projection can be problematic for vision impaired worshippers. It may be necessary to provide song sheets or hymnals for such individuals.
Probably all of the weaknesses noted can be overcome—some more easily than others—and many of the strengths can be transferred through careful innovation. By being aware of the strengths and weaknesses of our chosen tool, we can be prepared to minimise the weaknesses and maximise the strengths.
Depending on each church’s philosophy of music and ministry, these factors will be weighed differently. Probably most ministries will use these tools supplementally as opposed to alternatively. Perhaps a synthesis of both options would allow us not only to utilise the strengths of projection, but also to harness the richness of the hymnal for the glory of God and the maturing of His saints.